Think Zinc – Things to Know About This Important Mineral
Small but mighty would be a good way to describe zinc’s place in the human body. While we only require a very small amount of this trace mineral, deficiencies can cause widespread problems. Zinc is important in many bodily processes including immune function, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and tissue and cell creation.1-2 See? Majorly important.
So, how can you make sure you’re getting enough zinc? How much is enough? The best place to start is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with a variety of whole foods. This will ensure that you get plenty of zinc, as well as other vitamins and minerals which are equally important to your health.
Zinc In Particular
Foods high in zinc include meat, seafood, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.1-2 Importantly, plant sources of zinc, like those listed above, also contain phytates which bind with zinc and make it difficult for the body to absorb.1-3 So, if you’re vegetarian or vegan, make sure to compensate by eating plenty of good zinc sources every day.
The good news for those on plant-based diets is that our bodies are adaptable, and in the absence of meat, they get really good at absorbing zinc from plant foods, despite the obstacles, so most vegetarians and vegans have no issues with zinc deficiency.3
Not everyone has an easy time getting enough zinc though, and for these individuals, supplementation may be necessary to ensure that their zinc levels stay high enough to maintain good immune function, wound healing ability, and tissue replacement.
People who are at risk for zinc insufficiency or deficiency include exclusively breastfed children older than 6 months, individuals with bowel diseases such as colitis or Crohn’s disease, those who’ve had parts of their digestive tract surgically removed or altered, alcoholics, and elderly individuals with food insecurity.2
If you, or your dependent, falls into any of the categories listed above, please talk with your doctor or other healthcare provider such a dietitian, to make sure that nutritional needs for zinc, as well as all other essential vitamins and minerals, are being met.
Another issues to take into consideration is medications. If you are taking medications such as antibiotics, or certain medications for arthritis, be sure to separate your zinc supplement and your medication by 2 hours or more.2 If you feel unsure about when and if you should be taking zinc at all, ask your doctor.
Diuretics are another medication that can impact zinc levels. Thiazide diuretics in particular, can deplete zinc levels.2 If you are on a thiazide diuretic, perhaps you should consider talking with your doctor about monitoring your zinc levels to be sure you aren’t deficient.
You may also want to speak with your doctor about supplementing zinc if you are sick, injured, or have chronic sores such as diabetic ulcers. These situations can require a lot of zinc to help heal. In some instances, your doctor may even prescribe a zinc supplement. If you’re just struggling with a minor affliction though, you can use over-the-counter options such as zinc lozenges to help get over a cold more quickly.2
Don’t Overdo It
Zinc is one of those things that’s easy to go a little too crazy with. Our bodies can only handle so much before they start to rebel. If you’re taking zinc supplements and are experiencing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, appetite loss, headaches, and/or diarrhea, stop your supplement and speak with your healthcare provider.
Recommendations for zinc intake by age and gender are listed below and supplementing with zinc in doses higher than these levels can cause problems like those listed above:
- • 0-6 months old – 2 mg/day
- • 7-12 months old – 3 mg/day
- • 1-3 years old – 3 mg/day
- • 4-8 years old – 4 mg/day
- • 9-13 years old – 8 mg/day
- • Boys 14-18 years old – 11 mg/day
- • Girls 14-18 years old – 9 mg/day
- • Adult men – 11 mg/day
- • Adult women – 8 mg/day
- • Pregnant women – 11 mg/day
- • Lactating women – 13 mg/day2
Most adults can safely tolerate zinc in amounts as high as 40 mg/day, but remember this includes zinc from foods, not just supplements.2 When you consider that the average zinc supplement contains 30-50mg of zinc, you can see how it would be very easy to overdo it and end up with a zinc overdose.
Large-dose supplements are typically intended for individuals who have absorption problems and need large amounts to increase the chances of getting enough zinc. For individuals who don’t have absorption issues, large doses can easily cause more harm than good. To be safe, discuss any supplements you are taking, or would like to take, with your doctor or other healthcare provider.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plants foods, is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
- The Nutrition Source. Zinc. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc/#:~:text=Zinc%20is%20a%20trace%20mineral,supporting%20a%20healthy%20immune%20system. Published March 2, 2022. Accessed April 8, 2022.
- Office of dietary supplements - zinc. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/. Published December 2021. Accessed April 8, 2022.
- Saunders AV, Craig WJ, Baines SK. Zinc and vegetarian diets. The Medical Journal of Australia. https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2013/199/4/zinc-and-vegetarian-diets#:~:text=Of%20note%2C%20the%20World%20Health,to%20meet%20150%25%20of%20RDI. Published October 29, 2013. Accessed April 8, 2022.